Strategies to develop sustainable innovations in Andean countries

In Andean countries, around 121 million people are the BoP with a combined purchasing power of $169 billion (World Resources Institute for IDB, 2006). Strategies are essential to integrate sustainability considerations (environmental issues, economic growth and social welfare) through public policies and private organizations to reduce poverty and inequity in theses countries. Clearly, much work needs to be done to develop better analytical tools, empirical research and operational models to understand who is doing what, where, how, why, and with whom and then to evaluate what is working and what is not.

Currently, a number of organizations provide services and goods for the BoP. For example, microfinances in Peru (including programs focus on women entrepreneurs and indigenous people), telecommunications and ICT technologies for urban poor and rural communities and development of appropriate technologies (RAMP-Peru Project sponsored by the Lemelson Foundation). However, the lack of systematic research on profitable ways to engage the BoP into a company’s business operations in a way that benefits the low-income communities (environmental, social, financial aspects) and the stakeholder impact on the business case have been one of the greatest obstacles to those dedicated to the promotion of sustainable competitiveness. In other words, how to empower individuals at the BoP to develop their own industries to serve their own people.

The purpose of the research project is to understand deeply how to foster the development of sustainable innovations addressing environmental, economic, social and ethical dimensions. These innovations are not just about new concepts but are about commercialization of technologies, products and services and about entrepreneurship. It can also be about the adoption of new processes and systems at societal level. Moreover, they should aim at meeting the needs of the BoP and introduce this segment into a business environment as their incorporation in the value chain as providers, employees, distributors, clients or partners.

The research will include analyzing the problems, barriers and obstacles to sustainable innovation associated with existing social, legislative, economic and management systems. This will highlight the drivers, new businesses, organizational and product development models and opportunities. Additionally, the research will emphasize better mechanisms to stimulate sustainable innovation in the process or cycle. For example, at the creativity stage of product development (company); and early in innovation/technology cycles (government). It may also provide tools to help managers assess and construct their own case. At the same time, how to nurture the process of sustainable innovation: within large and medium sized companies; between large and medium-sized companies; within entrepreneurial “start-ups”; between entrepreneurial “start-ups”; within governments; and between governments and so on. This research will contribute towards further scholarly debate on learning the preconditions and processes that have enabled sustainable innovations to arise in certain sectors and companies; and potential transferability to other sectors and companies.

The research will provide empirical evidence with a focus on agricultural-food value chains. Considering that this sector plays a key role in GDP, employment and, in particular, exports. It involves exploring the spectrum of services needed to nurture grassroots entrepreneurs towards creating enterprises that meet basic human needs in a sustainable way, including commodity chain development, agribusiness cluster formation, and facilitation of enabling institutional environments.

We believe that findings will trigger action and result in making companies in Andean countries more sustainable and more competitive and help business people to identify BoP opportunities to increase profits, distribution channels and market base. For governments, the research intends to elaborate a multidimensional evaluation framework for regional development policies and strategies in terms of sustainable innovation, identifying key factors at the regional level and the range of suitable policy options. It could improve distribution of wealth, increase income and opportunities for tax revenue and social investment. The viewpoint and concerns of others key players as NGOs, international organizations, local communities, and investors will be incorporated. This will strengthen the sustainable business case, work out a set of most suitable and effective policy instruments and provide recommendations to regional policy makers.

The study will be in three phases (1) to collect empirical data based on in-depth case studies from Chile, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador. The business cases vary by country and company size (SMEs, export-oriented companies, national companies and multinational corporations) The case studies will be selected from publicly available information and reports that highlight best practice, directory of Public agencies, and conversations with experts and company managers in Andean countries. (2) to examine what key players could do and are doing based on the cases, as well as interviews with experts from companies, business associations, public agencies for development, NGOs and academia. My goal is to sketch out some of the important issues, drivers, barriers and key players which are relevant to the business case in these countries. (3) to explore the main strategies which could strengthen the business case by providing companies with the right incentives and frameworks in order to achieve sustainable innovations.

Sustainable innovation is a new and developing field with new concepts and emerging techniques. We believe that to create more sustainable innovation will require more education and training in developing countries. We would like to work with researchers who did or is doing research on sustainability considerations, including social and ethical issues which are especially relevant to the base of the pyramid (BoP).

We would have experience doing research with a positivist approach. However, because of the nature of the challenge posed by sustainability, we are able to move beyond traditional disciplinary thinking, and even beyond interdisciplinarity, towards intercultural and transdisciplinary exchanges. In consequence, to be able to identify the opportunities to use inputs from other forms of knowledge using the expertise that is available and incorporating the perspectives and concerns of the major stakeholders involved.

Regarding the research methodology, we propose to implement a mixed research method approach involving multi-industry surveys, interviews and case studies to collect empirical data. This seeks to identify patterns and regularities among these initiatives. Mixed methods are likely to produce some concepts that do not fit into existing theories or models or previous understanding but which in fact provide new complex and less evident explanations of the research questions. Case study method and survey research are a systematic way of looking at what is happening, collecting data, analyzing information, and reporting the results. The product is a sharpened understanding of why the instance happened as it did, and what might be important to look at more extensively in future research. Thus, they are especially well suited because this research project is a hypothesis-generating rather than a hypothesis-testing approach to a complex and not yet well-understood topic. In the analysis of the data, we will compare and identify patterns across cases by using tables and matrices, a tool used extensively in multiple case analyses.

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